They’re baaaack! Ever since Cadillac displayed its XTS Platinum Concept as a future flagship model, the brand’s lack of a range-topping super-luxo-barge has become an increasingly regular complaint. The XTS’s humble (Epsilon II platform) roots, modest proportions and general “Buick-in-Caddy-clothes” vibe led TTAC to dub it “The Phantom Flagship,” a criticism that has echoed throughout the automotive media. The issue isn’t so much whether or not the XTS is a good luxury car, but rather the fact that even Hyundai has a more plausible large, rear-drive, V8-powered flagship in the traditional mold. With Cadillac’s products and image steadily improving, the lack of a legitimate flagship is even more glaring. Last summer, after several months of griping from Cadillac fans, rumors began to surface that GM’s then-CEO Ed Whitacre was pushing for a “proper” rear-drive flagship. Well, the rumors are back… and as before, they’re as confusing as ever. Luckily, we’ll have more than a few years to speculate about this mythical beast… so let’s get the party started.
The latest batch of rumors trace back to Car and Driver, which reports
According to insiders, Cadillac’s new flagship model will be built on a standalone rear-drive platform, dubbed Omega, rather than sharing underpinnings with the CTS or upcoming ATS. [It] will be powered by six- and eight-cylinder engines, and all-wheel drive would be optional. A hybrid version could follow later, a diesel— which would account for the bulk of the vehicle’s sales in Europe—won’t. The new, impressively styled sedan will be launched in 2014 as a 2015 model.
The platform issue has been the bugbear of all Cadillac flagship rumors, and this latest round is no exception. The rumored “standalone” Omega platform is a huge question mark, as competitors have spent upwards of a billion dollars developing unique-platformed flagship sedans (notably the Mercedes W140 S-Class). As a result, the previous iterations of Caddy flagship rumors involved derivatives of either the CTS’s Sigma platform or the Caprice/Camaro/G8 Zeta platform. After all, as we explored during the last flagship-fest, GM has plenty of demands on its cash, and a Cadillac flagship might not necessarily be the top priority, especially with a new ATS sports sedan aimed directly at the BMW 3-Series juggernaut requiring hefty investments to fulfill its mission.
So what is this Chinese-developed “Omega” platform? GM Shanghai was previously in charge of developing an extended-wheelbase version of the Sigma-based STS (called SLS), which was the basis of a previous C&D Caddy flagship rumor. C&D now seems certain that this is not the basis of the new flagship, but as Jack Baruth has convincingly argued, platforms are a tenuous concept at best. Given that GM Shanghai’s history of leading platform development is essentially limited to stretching Sigma, it’s entirely possible that this new “standalone” platform is, in fact, an evolution of the SLS’s underpinnings. After all, isn’t Holden supposed to be GM’s rear-drive “home room,” and failing that, wouldn’t Opel be the logical choice to develop a super-premium flagship? Further confusing the situation is the name of this rumored flagship platform, which was previously referred to as “Beta,” and has been described as a Shanghai-led development of a canceled “Zeta II” Holden project.
But, like all good Cadillac flagship rumors, this one isn’t just confusing… it’s got elements of outrageousness as well. Namely, the second part of C&D’s report, which suggests
We also have learned that General Motors is considering an even more exciting use for the Omega platform—though it’s one we’re skeptical will see the light of day. Our sources tell us that Cadillac is looking at building a super-luxury sedan to compete head-on with the likes of the Rolls-Royce Phantom.
Bear in mind that this is coming from the outlet that previously “reported” that, in addition to a large a rear-drive Cadillac,
a second vehicle under consideration is more expressive and more expensive but decidedly lower volume. The exact shape of this possible car has yet to be decided; proposals include a large—nearly Maybach-large—high-end asphalt crusher, a Mercedes CL–sized personal luxury coupe, a high-performance coupe, a four-door B-pillarless sedan, a trend-following four-door coupe, or, most interesting, a mid-engine two-seat sports car built on a new platform.
So, rather than developing a mid-engine supercar, Cadillac’s bosses decided the Phantom was the more vulnerable segment? If C&D is on to something with the Phantom-fighter rumor, it would seem to confirm the development of an all-new platform, as it is unlikely that GM Shanghai’s engineers can stretch Sigma to much beyond the SLS’s 120 inch wheelbase in order to compete with the Phantom’s 140-inch ‘base, let alone the new stretched Phantom’s 150-incher. And though putting two cars on the same platform makes sense, a legitimate Phantom-fighter would not be some cheap two-fer to improve return on development costs… a solid personal luxury coupe would lower development costs on the platform (by removing the need for extended-wheelbases) and add volume relatively cheaply. Where’s that rumor?
Ultimately, trying to make sense of these rumors continues to be an exercise in frustration. Contradictory, counter-intuitive details could easily be a smokescreen, while the entire Phantom-fighter thing could simply be a way to keep up interest in the brand, which won’t launch any new products until the 2013 model-year, when the ATS, XTS and possibly a Lambda-based crossover are scheduled to debut. And since the rumored Omega “flagship” won’t arrive until at least the 2015 model-year, we’ve got lots of time to pick through the rumors, hints, and innuendo.